This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2023 ACGME Awards. The awardees join an outstanding group of previous honorees whose work and contributions to graduate medical education (GME) represent the best in the field. They will be honored at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference, taking place on February 23-25, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.
2023 Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Awardee Dr. Timothy R. Long is a program director for anesthesiology and vice chair for education at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
ACGME: How did you become involved in medicine, and in academic medicine specifically?
Dr. Long: My initial interest in medicine came from a scientific curiosity and naïve understanding of the profession from my father, a retired physician. Throughout my education, I discovered that health care aligned well with my desire to serve others, a foundation of my Christian faith. Unaware of the benefits of an academic practice, I entered private practice following residency. While I thoroughly enjoyed the practice and serving patients, I felt a void that led me to pursue academic medicine on what I thought would be a trial basis, and here I am more than two decades later! Over this time, I have come to recognize that meaning in medicine is achieved through the daily impact made on behalf of patients, efforts that are magnified exponentially through dissemination of knowledge and skills to others.
ACGME: What does this award mean to you?
Dr. Long: As all program directors recognize, the time commitment for the job is immense and to be recognized for these efforts is rare and appreciated. The Courage to Teach Award is a tremendous honor for which I am humbled. Those in academic medicine are in the unique position to receive many rewards through the individuals they have recruited, mentored, and coached in the residency program. Witnessing the success of others is motivating and inspiring for everyone in academic medicine, and I feel lucky to have been in an environment where I have benefitted from these ongoing rewards.
ACGME: What do you feel is the most important job the program director has?
Dr. Long: In GME, programs and residents have individual responsibilities that need to be fulfilled to achieve their mutual goals. Residents require a servant leader who is a steadfast advocate and who simultaneously sets boundaries and holds them accountable. They expect their program director to be accessible, trustworthy, dependable, honest, supportive, and confidential with sensitive information. Role modeling professionalism is key to a healthy clinical learning environment.
ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Dr. Long: The most rewarding part of the job is participating in and facilitating the growth of residents to realize their own potential. This begins with recognition of the potential of each individual resident, is fostered through a growth mindset culture, and culminates in the resident’s attainment of knowledge, skills, and confidence in the field. At the conclusion of every academic year, a new graduate class photo is hung on a wall in my office. These photos are a reminder of the importance and privilege of training physicians of the future and are a personal motivator to continue the mission of academic medicine.
ACGME: What is the most challenging?
Dr. Long: The most challenging aspect of being a program director is fulfilling the many requirements of the job while sometimes addressing goals that conflict between faculty, residents, institution, and outside organizations. The program director must navigate this challenging terrain and mediate the needs of all participants in GME.
ACGME: What advice do you have to residents or fellows who may be interested in pursuing a career in academic medicine?
Dr. Long: In considering any career path, residents and fellows should reflect on their purpose and motivations and ask themselves if these align with their chosen career path. While delivery of patient care is equally important in academics and private practice, there are additional responsibilities such as teaching, mentorship, and scholarly activity required in academics. I have found that dedicating time to these additional activities has led to a rewarding and fulfilling academic career.
ACGME: Is there anything else you would like to add I haven’t asked about?
Dr. Long: The program director plays an important leadership role in an academic department. Developing leadership skills does not happen overnight. For those who think they might be interested in a leadership position, be present in the moment and do well with what is in front of you every day, even if it seems trivial at the time. Be open and accepting of advice from mentors and pay attention to opportunities that arise. With this approach, you will be ready for anything that comes your way.
Learn more about the ACGME’s Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award and nominate a deserving program director for the 2024 Award – nominations are due by March 15, 2023.